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Voice is the biggest change to the way people search since the rise of mobile.

Just a decade ago, the concept of controlling technology using just your voice was the stuff of sci-fi. Today, it's a readily accepted part of our daily lives.

Most consumers' first exposure to voice search came with the debut of Siri on the iPhone in 2011. Today, Siri, Alexa, and Cortana compete for our attention, and the booming smart speaker market features a who's who of tech competitors, including Google (Home), Amazon (Echo), and Apple (HomePod).

Nearly one-third of marketing leaders see voice search as the "next big thing" in search marketing. Clearly, voice search is not a technology your business can afford to ignore.

Businesses can prepare for the future through digital knowledge management

Consumers have been quick to adopt voice search, but businesses are less prepared for its implications. In the past, when a consumer searched the Web for something such as "best pizza near me," the list of search results included multiple blue links on a page.

Now, when consumers pose that question to voice-enabled services such as Google Assistant, Siri, or Alexa, the result will often be just one answer—the one the search service determines is the best result. That means if a business isn't that first response, it risks not showing up at all—and losing business.

The website, once the centerpiece of a brand, is quickly being overtaken as third-party information sources, such as voice assistants, become more and more intelligent. That is why brands need to go beyond traditional SEO.

That shift also means brands must ensure that the facts about them are managed and published accurately, and that they are recognizable to intelligent services—including voice assistants—that consumers rely on today. When your business does that, the need for, and the delay associated with search engine crawling, is eliminated, and you ensure your consumers receive accurate, timely information about your business straight from the source.

Here are three steps your business can take to stay competitive in the world of intelligent services, voice search, and AI:

  1. Gain control of your digital knowledge. The foundation of any voice search strategy is organizing and centralizing all the public facts about people, products, and locations. Have a central source of truth to easily make updates and maintain consistency. Technology alone will not address that underlying need. It's also critical to have great people—and a great process—working together.
  2. Actively manage your business facts. Businesses are dynamic, and so are the facts about them. Store relocations, seasonal changes, special promotions, and weather-related closures imply constant flux. That means managing a brand's knowledge isn't a one-and-done project; it should be done on an ongoing basis.
  3. Integrate internal systems, and publish your digital knowledge. Once you organize all the important facts consumers want to know, publish them to the services customers are using. That includes websites, voice search tools, apps, and even your own site. Providing the most accurate, up-to-date information everywhere is crucial to offering an excellent consumer experience.

Take a conversational approach

The shift to voice search also means that if businesses want to be seen as the best provider of an answer to a voice query, they need to secure the search engine's trust with the right information presented in a coherent way.

However, search engines don't work miracles. If content is hidden or difficult to discover, it won't show up when people search for it. A brand's website, videos, and other content are key to contextualizing the public facts about a business for intelligent services... but only if those intelligent services can find and understand them.

In addition, with the growth of conversational search (i.e., when a consumers ask search engines questions as they would of another person), businesses need to ask themselves, "What else can I tell prospective customers to help them make a buying decision?"

A consumer will want to know everything, from whether a hotel has rooms available to the average wait time at a restaurant. If a business can make all of that information available, it is more likely to be the answer consumers hear to their questions in voice search.

Understand the customer journey

Businesses must understand the customer journey to thrive in today's environment. That extends beyond having just the top search rankings for select keywords. With voice search, contextual relevance is key. To be successful with voice search, businesses must understand the moments of context that exist for a person, and then meaningfully map to those moments.

For example, although a business may not come up as the first search result when asked "What's the best sushi place in New York?" it might be number one when asked "What's the best sushi place in SoHo in New York?" or "What's the best sushi place that's open late?" If a business is able to share specifics of its offerings (e.g., hours, menu items, exact location, etc.), it will crop up in results to more-specific queries.

Voice search now has the ability to understand a lot of context. That means brands must understand why a consumer would choose their business over another (such as shorter wait times, cheaper prices, more convenient location) and make that information available.

Ultimately, a brand's ability to understand those moments of context, meaningfully map to them, and then publish relevant digital knowledge effectively will determine its success with voice search.

Future-proof your business

As businesses deploy those strategies to win at voice search, they will also find themselves far better prepared for new user interfaces beyond voice.

Amazon, for one, is already pioneering the visual search space with products such as Echo Look, Spot, and Show, and Google Lens lets you scan the real world to see location-specific information. Just as with voice search, if a visual search involves your business, you want the consumer to get accurate information straight from you.

By managing, updating, and publishing key facts that consumers want to the intelligent services they use, you're already taking the next step to future-proofing your business for whatever user interfaces consumers adopt next.

Yes, voice search is disrupting traditional search optimization strategies, but it is also creating a huge opportunity for those ready to future-proof their business.

After all, if you don't manage the public facts about your business, who will? Perhaps I'd better go ask Siri.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Jeffrey K. Rohrs

Jeffrey K. Rohrs is chief marketing officer at Yext, a technology company that helps businesses manage the public facts about their brands that they want consumers to see online.

LinkedIn: Jeffrey K. Rohrs

Twitter: @jkrohrs